What is the ‘best practice’ of public participation in international fora other than the UNFCCC including but not limited to meetings in open sessions; opportunities to speak and make interventions; ‘media stunts’, actions, demonstrations, protests inside and outside the venue; dispute resolution; financing of travel for NGO representatives; access to meeting documentation; access restrictions; written statements; NGO involvement in consultations; observer submissions as part of official documentation?
After reviewing the various procedures, protocols, and forums for public participation offered by CAT and CERD, we contacted individuals who have engaged with CAT and CERD to better understand the effectiveness of each opportunity for public participation. We discovered that CAT and CERD offer similar and distinct opportunities for civil society participation. Both bodies provide NGOs the opportunity to observe meetings and submit complaints on behalf of individuals. Furthermore, both bodies provide NGOs the opportunity to submit written information for a variety of purposes and to participate in informal briefings of committee members under various circumstances, although the protocol and practice for each body differs. In addition, CERD provides NGOs the unique opportunity to contribute and convene during thematic discussion days. Lastly, CERD has compiled an effective “Guide for Civil Society Actors.”
As noted by a former official UN participant, each of the above described modes has potential to be an excellent opportunity for NGO engagement with CAT and CERD; the effectiveness, however, largely depends on the level of organization of an NGO and whether the efforts of that NGO are designed to genuinely inform and guide Committee members.
Introduction and background: In response to this query, we surveyed opportunities for public participation with the Human Rights Council, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the Children’s Rights Committee (CRC), the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on Disabilities, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. This memorandum focuses entirely on examples of “best practices” of public participation with the Committee Against Torture (CAT) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). We found similarity in opportunities for NGOs to interact with CAT and CERD. Both bodies offer NGOs the chance to observe sessions and to submit complaints on behalf of individuals.
I. Best Practice: Transparency in Meetings
With respect to both CAT and CERD, members of civil society, including NGOs, are permitted to attend sessions to observe the consideration of the State reports by the members of the respective Committees. CAT specifies that representatives of accredited NGOs may attend as observers; however, NGOs may not intervene in the session. To be accredited and eligible to attend a session, an NGO must complete an accreditation form and send it to the Secretariat two weeks before the session. Similarly, although NGOs may not take part in the dialogue between states and CERD, attendance at a session provides a valuable opportunity for an NGO to witness and audio record the issues raised by Committee members, a State’s responses, and the Committee’s reaction to those responses. With respect to CERD specifically, a press release is issued the day after the consideration of a State’s report, followed by a “summary record” which can be obtained through the UN Official Document Search or the respective session page on the CERD website.
II. Best Practice: Submission of Complaint by an NGO on behalf of an individual
Five of the UN human rights bodies, including CAT and CERD, consider individual complaints and communications. CAT may receive individual complaints related to a particular State, if the State party has declared recognition of the competence of the Committee under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture. Likewise, CERD may receive individual complaints related to a particular State, if the State party has declared recognition of the competence of the Committee under Article 14. In both cases, an NGO may bring the complaint on behalf of an individual if the individual has given written consent or if the individual is incapable of giving such consent.
Committee Against Torture (CAT)
I. Best Practice: Involvement in reporting process through submission of written information
CAT meets for a four-week session twice a year in Geneva, Switzerland to examine reports submitted in accordance with the Convention. Rule 63 of CAT’s Rules of Procedure provides that “[t]he Committee may invite…non-governmental organizations…to submit to it information, documentation, and written statements, as appropriate, relevant to the Committee’s activities under the Convention.” NGOs have the opportunity to submit written information for the following purposes.
A. Submission of written information in contribution to the development of a List of Issues
Once a State party submits a periodic report to CAT under Article 19 , the Committee reviews the report and generates a list of issues. The list of issues provides a State Party the opportunity to clarify and update certain issues, and also serves to focus the dialogue with a State on matters of importance to the Committee. NGOs are given the opportunity to submit written information relevant to the list of issues. This information should be submitted at least two months before the opening of the designated session for that State.
The list of issues is then sent to the State party and published online. A State replies to the list of issues in writing, before the dialogue between the Committee and the State party’s delegation commences. The State party then sends a delegation to Geneva to meet with the Committee at a designated session.
B. Submission of written information related to a State Party’s report
NGOs are also invited to submit to the Committee written information that relates to a State’s report. This information should be submitted at least two weeks before the opening of the relevant session in electronic form; the information is posted on the CAT website and made public. Due to the fact that submissions are not translated, CAT advises that the information be submitted in one of the official languages of the United Nations; if only submitted in one language, CAT advises that documents provided in English have the potential to reach the most members of the Committee. NGOs that submit written information prior to the session are given the opportunity to brief the Committee orally during the session (See “II. Best Practice: In-Session Briefings by NGOs to the Committee” below).
C. Submission of written information for the follow-up to the Committee’s recommendations
Lastly, NGOs may submit written information to the Committee during the follow up stages of the State reporting process. Following review of all information submitted to the Committee, the briefings, and dialogue with the State party, the Committee issues concluding observations, which identify concerns, as well as recommendations that can be implemented within one year; within that one year, a State party must provide information on the measures taken toward implementation of the Committee’s concluding observations. NGOs may submit written information under this follow-up procedure to comment on a State party’s progress toward implementation of the Committee’s previous recommendations. All documentation for the follow-up procedure, including submission of information by NGOs is made available on the CAT website under the follow-up webpage.
II. Best Practice: In-Session Briefings by NGOs to the Committee
The Committee provides NGOs that submit written information to the Committee regarding a given State party, the opportunity to meet with the Committee before the Committee meets with that State party’s delegation. During a one-hour briefing, an NGO’s representatives are given approximately thirty minutes to address the Committee and the rest of the time is used for Committee members to ask questions to the NGO. The Committee asks that NGOs highlight and update the most important issues, as well as coordinate presentations with other NGOs to avoid repetition of information.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
I. Best Practice: Thematic Discussions
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) facilitates thematic discussions on issues related to racial discrimination and the Convention. Since 2000, the Committee has held seven thematic discussions, with the most recent occurring on March 7, 2011, addressing “Racial Discrimination against People of African Descent.” During these discussions, State parties, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations are given the opportunity to express their views on the subject matter. The thematic discussion day is designed “to allow participants to exchange views in a frank and open dialogue.” All participants must complete a conference registration form.
The Committee gives NGOs the opportunity to submit written information to the Committee related to the subject under discussion and to make a short oral presentation on the day of discussion. The Committee requests that NGOs inform the Secretariat of the Committee of the intention to make an oral presentation and provide an electronic version, as well as hard copies, of the oral presentation in advance of the day of discussion.
In order to facilitate communication prior to the most recent discussion in 2011, the Committee set up an email address to receive contributions, questions, and comments from individuals, as well as NGOs, regarding the event. Additionally, the Committee solicited written reports from civil society groups in advance of the day of discussion and made these reports available on the website.
As noted by a participant in the most recent thematic discussion, the quality of the thematic discussion is evidenced by the quality of the General Recommendation that is produced on the subject, in the context of the Convention.
II. Best Practice: Maintenance of ongoing relations with NGOs
A. Submission of information on issues relating to States reporting
Civil society actors, including NGOs, may submit information to CERD through the Secretariat at any time; however, to maximize effectiveness of efforts to submit information, CERD encourages submission of information at strategic phases of the State reporting cycle.
Under Article 9 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), a State must submit an initial report one year after a State enters the Convention into force; thereafter, a State is supposed to submit periodic reports every two years. When a State submits a periodic report to the Committee, consideration of the report is scheduled and detailed information related to the report is posted on the CERD website. NGOs may submit information related to consideration of the State report for a variety of purposes. A former member of CERD commented that the written information should be targeted with a view of genuinely guiding CERD members to a better understanding of what is happening on the ground.
• List of Themes: NGOs can provide information to be specifically reflected in the list of themes and/or concrete proposals of themes. An NGO submitting such information should clearly indicate that the submission is intended for the list of themes and should submit such information as early as possible (the list of themes is usually sent to the respective State government 4 to 6 weeks before the relevant session).
• Alternative State Report: To aid CERD members in gaining a more comprehensive understanding and assessment of the implementation of ICERD in a given state, an NGO may submit an alternative state report. It is most effective to submit an alternative report after submission of the relevant State report, but before consideration of that relevant State report by the Committee. The Committee requests electronic and hard versions of the alternative report, in one of the working languages of CERD members. The Committee advises that the report should draw on statistics, academic research, court cases, official documents issued by authorities, and reliable media reports. In terms of structure, the Committee suggests several effective methods for organization of the alternative state report: State report oriented, in accordance with articles of ICERD, or issues oriented. Furthermore, the Committee welcomes suggestions for questions and recommendations that CERD members can use in the consideration of the relevant State report. Examples of alternative reports are available online.
B. Informal meetings organized by the Committee on issues of major importance for the implementation of the Convention
The Committee may organize informal meetings with representatives of NGOs on issues of major importance for the implementation of the Convention. The Committee determines the agenda and structure of the meetings, to which States parties are also invited to attend. This provides NGOs a forum to communicate their perspective on the issue(s) at hand. According to a former member of CERD, the ability of an NGO to make the most of this opportunity heavily depends on the level of organization of the NGO itself with respect to their communications with CERD, as well as with respect to their efforts to relay information back to the country or population affected by the issue(s).
III. Best Practice: NGO participation during the CERD session
A. NGO Interaction with CERD members in an informal meeting at the beginning of each week during a CERD session
CERD hosts an informal meeting with NGOs at the beginning of each week during a CERD session. Three hours are allocated for one meeting to enable NGOs to provide information on all countries being considered by CERD during that respective week. The meeting is held in the conference room where CERD has its formal sessions and interpretation is provided. The forum allows NGOs to provide country-specific information to CERD members, even if NGOs and CERD members use different working languages. NGOs wishing to participate in any of these meetings are advised to contact the CERD Secretariat before the relevant session.
B. Informal briefing to CERD members
An NGO may organize an informal briefing for CERD members, if the NGO would like to provide information on one country immediately before consideration of the relevant State report. An NGO wishing to organize a briefing should contact the CERD Secretariat in advance of the session. A typical briefing usually takes place during the lunch break and lasts 1 hour, or 1.5 hours if lunch is provided for the CERD members. These informal briefings give an NGO the opportunity to present updated information, to explain complicated issues, or to answer any questions from CERD member, related to a specific country. These briefings are normally held in the room next to the main conference room, where there is no facility for simultaneous interpretation; therefore, the information should be presented in one of the working languages of the Committee members. Furthermore, while all Committee members are informed when there is a briefing, attendance to the briefing is voluntary.
IV. Best Practice: Creation of “ICERD and CERD: A Guide for Civil Society Actors”
In addition to providing information on the CERD website, Daisuke Shirane of the International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism authored and published “ICERD and CERD: A Guide for Civil Society Actors” in 2011, to inform civil society actors about International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and its work, as well as a comprehensive list and description of opportunities for civil society participation. This information has been streamlined to effectively and efficiently to inform NGOs of opportunities for participation with CERD.